Wednesday, May 12, 2004

contemporary preaching

below are some questions I have as I draft the outline of a course I am putting together on preaching in the postmodern – how to use the Biblical text with integrity in our world. I’d value any feedback …

NB: the course assumes an awareness and competency in expository preaching and is aimed at those who want to explore other approaches that both maintain the integrity of the Biblical text, yet communicate in our postmodern world.

What are the challenges for preaching today?

What place authority in the matrix of text, texts, preacher and community?

What approaches to contemporary preaching have you experienced and appreciated? (My list includes inductive, dialogical, case study, multiple approaches, video sermons, storytelling old and new?)

What wholistic approaches to text have you found useful? (My list includes emotional exegesis, group lectio divino, multi-sensory, creativity workshops)

How can sacred space, including the arts, the visual and the environment shape our environment today?

Posted by steve at 02:34 PM


  1. good questions Steve. With many of these, my first question is the age old ‘who am I talking to?’ has a trad service in the am which I preach at monthly. I’ve made the conscious decision to do the more exegetical/expositional preach because my colleagues are all master story-tellers which consequently needs the balance. Our breadth of gifts on the team is a bonus here. However, at headspace in the evening, we cn mix it up because the majority are pomo pilgrims and can accomodate lectio divina, multi-sensory, narrative preaching etc easier than can the morning folks.

    Balance is important I’m thinking. Preaching is, I believe, more complex today because it means that if you don’t have a team with different strengths, you’ve got to grapple with some visual, some story-telling, scholarly approaches etc and possibly interweave all of these.

    The end goal is the same everytime though – to build a robust Christian worldview for those who would listen. Trying to be too relevant is a mistake the Pharisees made. People don’t want relevant because it’s usually tack and pap. I’m asking, how do we let the Bible speak for itself when we’re preaching and allow others to connect the relevance themselves?

    Regarding the hermeneutical question on authority – it’s the recognition of authority present in the text (by virtue of authorial intention), reader (reader-response and our particular lenses carries some authority but not at the expense of authorial intention) and community reading that renders the most faithful environment for the Spirit to work.

    Some quick thoughts as I run from my computer. Good topic though.

    Comment by si johnston — May 13, 2004 @ 3:12 am

  2. cheers si, really appreciate these.

    Comment by steve — May 13, 2004 @ 10:00 am

  3. One thing I would say as a technique is that people don’t tend to hold oratory and re-digest its meaning (if they ever did), and they must do so in order to recall the message – “this is right because my preacher says so” has no weight anymore.

    Traditionally preaching was shaped by logical rhetoric – the advancement of particular propositions and then supporting those propositions with evidence. Today, effective post-modern preaching draws on creating stories or images and then filling those images or stories with meaning. Sometimes I call this a “hook” in the message – the hook will remain, and upon this you must hang your message.

    An example is modern political imagery – our opposition leader creates a vision of a ladder and trying to get all people in a position to climb the ladder – people remember the image, and then recall all of the details that have been piled into that image.

    Comment by dan — May 13, 2004 @ 1:04 pm

  4. I agree Dan, and it is one of the reasons I still preach, and am happy to teach to preach. Verbal communication still happens in our culture. I agree that it is a different way of communicating; shorter, more image based – which means that sermons as information dispensers is out (try books, discussions, seminars instead), but there is still a role for story, debate, multiple perspectives etc.

    Comment by steve — May 13, 2004 @ 1:13 pm

  5. Something my dad (a pastor in Sydney, Australia) did recently in his church that really went down well was to gather a number of folk on the stage, post his mobile phone number on the screen and ask for text-messaged questions from the congregation regarding spirituality, which was then discussed by the group onstage. It apparently worked wonderfully and what was said really sank in. It was in direct response to what was going on in people’s heads, answers to their questions that might not have been given in your average sermon.

    My mother, a chalk-art minister, occasionally illustrates a sermon as it is preached with a live drawing of the theme or message. Something visual to take away with you.

    Each week’s drama/skit is planned to tie in with the message, either as a postscript or an introduction.

    All of these cater for various ways of hearing and learning within the group that gather.

    Comment by Michelle — May 13, 2004 @ 7:33 pm

  6. thanks michelle – i like the text question idea – would be cool to have that happennning all the time – sort of like a wi-fi church – with everyone firing their thoughts at each other ..

    Comment by steve — May 14, 2004 @ 2:57 pm

  7. apostolic preaching on a liquid landscape . . .

    . . . this will probably not go over that well but you asked a question and i’m just trying to answer . . .

    . . . it seems clear that as the emerging church (ec) morphs styles of preaching are in flux just as much as the church is experiencing flux . . . . with increasing frequency we hear that certain ec models are working and attempts to clone those models are close behind . . . i however do not believe that a model is available nor should it be . . .

    . . . peter drucker speaking to the flux of change and the subsequent trending that has occurred in the technological world points to the fax modem/machine . . . the technology is it’s a tangible expression of the greater levels of change occurring around us . . . the idea being we have a ‘hardcopy’ that has been handwritten (in an analog form) and we invented a machine that changes that form from its current state of being analog to a digital form of one’s and zero’s . . . so we can see a culturally expression of this real morphing that we all feel around us . . . today’s prolific use of email and the suggestion to revert back to facsimile transmissions from our current unified messaging (emailing voice mail messages) and traditional email abilities vividly illustrate those changes taking place all around us . . .

    . . . however . . .
    . . . the facsimile while capable was very inefficient, ineffective, and a more labor intensive method to harvest the change from one form (analog) to another to another form (digital) . . . it’s a problematic method but it does enable advancement nevertheless . . . it seems that these more recent historical approaches to preaching (exegetical/expository data dumps) in a postmodern setting . . . it both looks and feels like it doesn’t belong, and it’s generally a lot ,more effort and less than effective results within the larger culture . . . in a post modern culture unlike any other time in history the people are predominately college educated or more . . . processing occurs more easily and more quickly, and with the everyday use of a little product called ms windows icons and the image based training that has occurred with everyone within the culture from tv . . . experiential learning is in my opinion the facsimile of the ec as it continues to morph into something different than the ec we see today . . . experiential learning involves 3 aspects: real knowledge — concepts, facts, information, and prior experiences . . . activity — knowledge applied to current, ongoing events reflection — thoughtful analysis and assessment of one’s own activity and our own contribution to personal growth . . . experiential learning involves learners as active and intentional participants . . .
    its getting the job done . . . its assisting in the issues that are emerging but even experiential learning has it own set of problems and it is not as efficient as what will come . . . later . . . but today it is at the growing edge of church development . . . obviously this shift away from the definition driven modern model in both communication and learning methods will create intentional spaces and gaps and i perceive that to be a good thing . . . when we logically ‘capture’ something related to the nature of god in the capturing a loss occurs and we miss part of the incomprehensible nature of the god we know and are learning to love . . .

    Comment by david robinson — May 14, 2004 @ 5:24 pm

  8. something that bothers me about the interactive, multi-media approach is this: are we becoming a group of people who are actually incapable of listening? If we are, what is that going to do to our capacity for relationships? Maybe in addition to dreaming up new methods of communicating, we need to teach each other the art of listening.

    ‘Preaching’ can mean any one of hundreds of things, but in common parlance it still means one person talking (whatever style or method they use) while others listen, or possibly one person holding court in a dialogic space, but still being the centre of the dialogue. It’s not the only way of communicating, but it’s surely still a valid one.

    Comment by maggi — May 14, 2004 @ 8:37 pm

  9. maggi : can we listen in more ways than through our ears?
    how do we help each other listen in a way that is communal and empowering when so much preaching seems to promote one person as expert?

    Comment by steve — May 16, 2004 @ 10:25 pm

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